Grace to you!
Yesterday, I shared some thoughts on the dress code for participants at the heavenly feast. Borrowing from Saint Augustine and other fathers of the Church, rooted in the bible, I wrote it is love—charity. I would love to extend that reflection by drawing from the Lord’s answer to the Pharisee who was a lawyer.
The Lawyer asked Jesus: “Which is the greatest of the commandments?" Jesus replied that the first is the love of God and the second is the love of neighbor. And on these two commandments, he said, depend the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:34 to 40).
When I read those words, which by the way I have read over and over again and, I suppose, you are pretty familiar with, I am drawn to ponder on the meaning of those words for me this moment. How do they speak to my spiritual and social life? How do I reflect God's love and love of my neighbor, especially towards that guy who drives me crazy?
I am reminded of the Little Flower, Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus. She prayed and constantly asked God to lead her to discover her unique vocation in life. It wasn’t simply about the vocation for “status” in life. She was already a religious nun. She wanted to find her place in the religious life, her place in the Body of Christ.
After many years of searching, praying and reading, she came across St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 12:31, where it said love is the greatest. She claimed right then the answer was found and it stuck. She exclaimed: “Yes I have found my vocation; my vocation is to love.”
In her very words told in her autobiography, which was written out of obedience and published posthumously, “Then, nearly ecstatic with supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my proper place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.”
Love all the way through, is the answer to finding true joy and inner peace. It’s the way of God, the way to true faith and true religion.
As I contemplate Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I am reminded what that love is about. It is about self-emptying so that all around us could witness the joy of salvation, the joy of the Lord and the glory of God’s face. As the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasarwould say, in Christ’s love and incarnation, we find the glory of God.
It is forgiveness so that all who hurt us could feel reconciled, and hopefully be reconciled. It is joy so that the sad and forlorn could be renewed and rejuvenated.
It is hope so that the darkness of despair could be overcome by the brilliance of holy agape, inspiring and gracing the heart once broken.
It is selfless service so that we no longer live for ourselves alone, but for others in Him who died for us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is sacrifice so that my neighbor could experience the hospitality and validation of being and feeling a priority.
It is being God to other people so that they can say, as the poor Indian homeless said because of the live-example of Mother Theresa Calcutta: “If Christ is like you, I will love to see him and to know him.”
Love is all it takes. Love is our passcode to perfect law, perfect life and perfect peace.
Lord Jesus Christ, increase your love in our hearts so we can love as you love. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu.
[Friday Week 20, Ru 1;1,3-6,14-16,22; Mt 22:34–40]
Grace to you!
If you are a leader or a coach, you know how depressing it can be to lead demotivated team. On the other hand, when you have motivated people, you feel like you can fly. Motivated people are on fire. They buy in easily. They get things going.
Fire has come to symbolize many things, from the good to the destructive. In Southern California where wild fire outbreak is more frequent than is desirable, the symbol of fire is terrifying.
Yet, fire is the key to purification, transforming raw materials and metals into refined products, and warming our menus for a delicious dinner. Also, when the fire of love is kindled in the heart, we see how the raw materials of our spiritual growth come alive. We begin to glow just like the face of Moses glowed while he was coming down from the mountain, having encountered the Lord.
But there is something about fire that speaks more than purification. Fire is the symbol of zeal and passion. “There is fire in his words,” suggests passionate words and enthusiasm.
It was logical that the Lord Jesus would speak of kindling fire upon earth right after his discussion on proper stewardship and the high expectation of one to whom much has been given (see Luke 12:41-48).
Fire also signifies intensity. There could be nothing more intense at the natural level than fire. So, when we speak of the fire of love, we refer to the intensity of that love.
In the Gospel of Luke 12:49, Jesus declares: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”
Could we get to the mind of Jesus to see how his wish isn’t simply a fantasy, but a prophecy which must be fulfilled? In that one line, the Lord speaks of his mission, as well as his commissioning for the disciples. He promised to set hearts and minds and the world on fire. This took place after what he called “the baptism which I must be baptized”; meaning, his crucifixion. Didn’t he set the disciples on fire on Pentecost day as he had promised? Isn’t that fire on for those who receive the Holy Spirit?
Understanding what this fire means is crucial to tapping its promise. It’s the fire of love, God’s burning love (Deuteronomy 4:24, Exodus 13:21-22), inspiring the giving up of Jesus’ life for love of us (John 3:16). “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
For Saints Ambrose, Cyril of Alexandria, and John Chrysostom, it is the fire of purification, purifying the dirt of sin in our hearts. The fire also symbolizes the Holy Spirit (Saint Bede, Acts 2).
Saint Josemaría Escrivá, called it “apostolic fire that acquires its strength in prayer…” (Christ Is Passing By, 120). It is the fire of zeal for evangelization.
A heart aflame for love wants to give everything or give her all, like a mother, to the most beloved child. If we are not afire for God and the Gospel, we won’t give our all. We won’t buy into God’s mission. The buying in, the passion, the motivation is from the Holy Spirit, “the principal agent of evangelization” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 6; also, John Paul II, Redemptori Missio, RM., n.21).
The Spirit descended on the apostles on Pentecost like a dove. They were on fire. Their fears were consumed by the fire of love. They became bold and preached with power. No one can contain the fire of love, the fire of the gospel and its purifying grace in the heart of believers.
Get this straight: This fire isn’t simply an easy route or a feel-good experience. Its consequence in a world cold to the things of God is direct opposition. Though the fire is about peace, love, grace and mercy and God’s boundless and burning love, many don’t want it or stand for it.
Opposition to the fire of charity brings persecution, division and conflicts, even within the same family. Jeremiah was on fire, and his prophecies made him Public Enemy No.1 of the political class. The letter to the Hebrews 12:4 speaks of the martyrdom which a faith on fire experiences, crushing the alluring pleasures of sin. It may be what Saint John of the Cross calls, the dark night of the senses.
The Lord Jesus has already warned believers about this scary persecution and the consequences of being on fire for God. So be ready.
As a believer, be bold. Be not afraid. Keep the fire burning. Be courageous when faced with oppositions, knowing that extinguishing the fire of love because of the cold blood of hate isn’t the best option. Set the cold world of hate, apathy and evil on fire with the blazing fire of love, grace and righteousness.
I’m in for it. I hope you buy in also. Be equipped and motivated. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[20th Sunday C: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Hebrew 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53]
Grace to you!
What would have happened if heaven were based on biological family relationships? What will happen if sharing in the life of Christ is based on biological affiliation?
I suppose it would mean that only the Jews would be saved. It would mean that those born in the Middle East would be included and others excluded. It would also mean that all who trace their family tree to Jesus or Mary or the apostles are assured of heaven.
We would end up with tribal religion. It would be so exclusive that the greater percentage of the world would have no chance. You may not even have a chance.
Other consequences would be the triumph of racism, ethnicism and tribalism. It would also mean a blanket approval of clannism and cronyism. People would promote those who look like them or belong to their club, and shut the door to those that are different. It would mean the worst type of segregation. It would mean an endorsement of injustice of the worst kind. I wonder how such a religious faith would be. Unfortunately, some who claim to profess Christ today tend to think this way and act this way.
Good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ has not offered us such a faith. Rather, he shows the radical nature of the Christian faith by teaching us that the most important thing is not biological family, cultural or regional affiliation with him, but spiritual birth into him. “Doing the will of his Father.”
We read from the Gospel of Matthew 12:46-50 his response to a man who let him know his family members were outside waiting for him. “Stretching out his hand toward his disciples,” Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:49-50).
In another place, when a woman extolled Mother Mary, the mother of the Lord, for being the womb that bore Jesus. Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:28).
In either case, the Lord was not disrespecting his mother and family. Rather, he was showing that the grace of being affiliated to him is dependent on the quality of one doing God’s will. We are brothers and sisters of the Lord when we do his will, which is also the will of the Father.
When we are baptized, we are baptized into the Lord. We are born again to begin a new life, the life of the Spirit of Christ. We are graced to become doers of the Lord’s will. That is what makes us members of the family of God in word and in deed. It is a spiritual rebirth open for all.
Hence, one of the signs of this rebirth is being like Christ. Loving the way Jesus loves. Seeing each other as family. It doesn’t matter where anyone comes from, because in Christ, we are all brethren. We are family. People who act in this manner are truly the family of God.
I pray that God will give us the grace to look beyond biological affiliations and see one another as brethren.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Week 16 Ordinary Time: Ex 14:21-15:1;18-20; Mt 12:46-50]
Grace to you!
Thousands of pilgrims were in attendance at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday, October 18, 2015 to witness the canonization of Marie-Azelie and Louis Martin, the parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, by Pope Francis.
During the homily in the serenity of the solemn Eucharistic celebration, the the Holy Father stated:
“The holy spouses, Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin, practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus." They are the first-ever married couple with children to be canonized in the same ceremony.
History was made. It is people who make history. The Martins did, and in a big way—the way of sanctity. It is in this context I always look at the story of Saint Theresa (January 2, 1873 – September 30, 1897), popularly known as The Little Flower. Her appreciation and practice of virtue started in the home, the "Church of the home" (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 1981, #38). Modeling the way for the child, as Proverbs 22:6 admonishes, is rewarding.
From her parents, now Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, Thérèse witnessed pure love, and felt God’s enduring love. In that home, she never heard voices raised, hate discussed, materialism promoted and immodesty approved. Love and kindness trumped. She saw beauty as it is and realized how God was seen in all life and activities of the family. Suffering and sickness were not to take away the joy of that home.
So for the girl Therese, the home nurtured the saint. It’s important for us to pay attention to the impact our examples could have on children. Children practice what they learn from home, just as they practice at home what they learn elsewhere, including what they copy from the media. Watchful care is important. Tender, pure and loving example is key.
The Little Flower’s example of “the little way” is spiritually brilliant. For the Little Flower, it is “doing ordinary things extraordinarily with love. This spiritual model sounds simple, but it is profound. It’s a model that could permeate every aspect of our lives today, if we live up to it. Often, it is in those little acts of love that holiness of life flourishes. It is in them that God is glorified.
Simple acts such as housecleaning, making our bed, keeping the restroom better than we found it, a genuine smile to a stranger, proper use of time, not wasting food and giving somebody a listening ear, may have great impact. So also simple acts of charity, spontaneous prayers in response to a prayer-burden, generous gift of our time to help someone else, etc., could mean much in our spiritual life. In doing such simple things as these with pure love, we lead the way of perfection.
The temptation to be known, to be famous or to do incredible things is huge for many. Nonetheless, we learn from the Little Flower how true it is that exaltation comes from God to the simple and the humble (Prov 3:34; Mt 23:12). Pope Pius X called her “the greatest saint of the modern times.” It wasn’t because of her unusual ascetic life, exceptional academic qualifications, physical beauty, mind-boggling ideas or innovation, or material success. It was for her pure love and audacious simplicity. Her heart was like that of a child, the kind the Lord presents to us as a model (Lk 9:46-48).
Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus (I take her as my girlfriend) has taught me many things as she taught another Father Maurice, a French Missionary in Africa, who was her penpal and friend, how to love God above all else. I owe to her some aspects of my spiritual journey.
Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, pray for us.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Grace to you!
In many ways, hospitals reveal human needs. In the hospitals, we witness firsthand our weaknesses. The strong and the weak, the wealthy and the poor share the same fate. They lie on that uncomfortable bed and are pushed around in ways they may not have tolerated. In the hospitals, we surrender to the limitations of our nature as humans.
As we go through the emergency rooms, or the ICUs, sometimes we have that moment to reflect on our needs and inadequacies. In the hospitals too, we come close to the desire of many hearts to find answers. We want a miracle. We desire a savior. No one, not even the most stoic, wants to make the hospital a home. We want to be healed fast and get out of there.
The hospital situation could be seen as a metaphor to humanity’s condition. Sickness that leads people to the hospital is comparable to sin that leads people to unfreedom. Sin and sinful conditions call for healing from our heavenly physician, Christ. As a priest, it’s incredible to witness firsthand the joy of freedom as people walk out of the Confessional, having been freed from sin and the state of spiritual unfreedom. For me, it’s far more exciting than someone walking out of the hospital healed of their sickness.
Some of our brokenness as humans is social and structural. The people of Israel, for instance, witnessed firsthand the social dimension, and its implications for the group and for the individual during their exile in Babylon. They were taken to where they didn’t want to go. They were forced into the condition that was painful and humbling. The compassionate Lord responded to their call for healing: “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (Is 35:4).
We read from the teachings of the Church that the story of the exile is a pointer to the story of the human condition in need of a Savior, Christ. This relates not simply to a group but also to individuals, such as the case in the New Testament miracle reported by Mark (7:31-35).
The man who was healed by the Lord in Mark 7:31-35 was described as deaf and with speech impediment. He needed a Savior. Though his situation was biological, and not his fault, by way of spiritual application, we could use it as relating to our spiritual needs too. The man is like anyone who lives in situations of spiritual needs, such as where they neither hear the good news nor proclaim the saving grace of God. He is like anyone bereft of grace by sin or sinful conditions. Conditions that prevent us from hearing or listening to God’s Word are terrible.
The Lord would use different sensory gestures of touching, seeing, spitting, eye lifting to heaven, and groaning to identify with the person in need. He demonstrates his connection with the individual and as well as his power to heal and save. “He himself bore our sins in his body .... By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, see also Is 53:4-5). The Lord fulfills the promise of the messianic era for which the reference of Mark 7:35 is tied to Isaiah 35:5-6. “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak” (Mk 7:37).
What is your need? What is it that has tied us down that we live in a condition of unfreedom, unable to hear the whisper of God’s voice around us and unable to tell forth the beauty, goodness and truth of God’s saving grace? What is it that has taken our joy away and made us live in conditions that could be described like an exile, a desert or a wasteland? What is that need that calls for Christ’s redeeming grace? What is that sinful condition or painful past that has dulled our spiritual senses and made us lose sight of the holy, the pure and the love of God in us and in our neighbor?
What is that situation that has made us insensitive to the poor and the vulnerable in our midst and, therefore, unable to respond to them not with sympathy but with compassion and equal respect? What is that situation that has made us place values only in what people have and not who they are? Just like the story in the Letter of James (2:1-5), what is that condition that has made us close our eyes to see in the poor in our church or community the same dignity as the big donor who enjoys our respect?
Those situations call for the healing touch of Christ. In those situations, we need God’s saving grace to hear God speak and to respond accordingly.
Praying that God will grant us the grace of spiritual awareness and freedom from sinful conditions. Amen.
[Sunday Week 23 Ordinary Time B: Is 35:4-7; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-35]
Grace to you!
I read the story of the Lord’s feeding of the five thousand (Jn 6:1-15) with fresh excitement this morning. My attention was drawn to some of the actions the Lord Jesus took leading to the miracle.
First, he saw the crowd. He thought of what to do for them. He was empathetic. He was caring. He could see they needed food. He noticed the need. Miracles happen when people see and notice the need. When they are concerned about the welfare of others, when they think of what they can do for others more than what they can do only for themselves. For the life of miracle is the life lived for others.
Next, the Lord set out to do something about the need he identified. He asked a rhetorical question: “Where shall we buy enough food for them to eat?” (Jn 6:5). Scripture says, Jesus knew already what to do. He was inspiring his disciples to buy into what he wants to do. As the leader par excellence, the Lord would want everyone to get onboard with this mission of being a gift, not for oneself alone, but for others. For a fulfilled life is one in which a person pours one’s life in service of others. The Eucharist is life, Christ’s life poured out to be consumed by many, so they will have the fulness of life. It is the self-emptying of the Divine Person which gives life to many.
Philip was doubtful how the poor gang of apostles would have the resources to buy food for numerous people, about five thousand men, excluding women and children. Certainly, the number would run above ten thousand people.
Andrew notices that a boy has five small loaves and two small fish. He, however, was convinced these wouldn’t go anywhere with the teeming population the Lord wants to feed.
The Lord has gotten what he wanted from them. Perhaps, he wants them to pay attention to what they have in hand. They are to intentionally consider the possibility that what they have could be tools for a divine miracle.
Often many miss the opportunity of miracle because they ignore completely what they already have in their hand. Your miracle springs from the little you already have.
We read the parallel story about a miracle of feeding of one hundred people by Prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44. Here the prophet asked that the gift of first fruit of twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grainpresented to him by a man, be shared to the gang of prophets. His servant, like Philip and Andrew in the case of Jesus, thought it was ridiculous to offer the bread to a hundred people. Yet, Prophet Elisha, knowing the logic of providence, insisted that what they have must be given because, as he prophesied, the Lord will make it sufficient.
Often, we focus on the lacks, the insufficiencies, and they prevent us from doing great things. The “half-empty-cup” syndrome prevents us from doing the little things that can transform our community and society. We fail to see that with any little things we have, from those seemingly insignificant gifts we bring, God does the miracle.
The Lord Jesus in the story of the feeding of the five thousand shows us how to offer the little for a higher course. “He took the loaves, gave thanks,and distributed them.” This is a gesture strongly related to a signature Jewish rite of “Breaking of Bread.”
In our Christian adaptation, it could be seen as a Eucharistic model of offering. During the Eucharistic celebration, the priest says the following prayer over the gifts to be offered to the Lord. The prayer is similar to the Jewish prayer for the “Breaking of Bread”: “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given, and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.”
We offer to the Lord what we have. The Lord transforms it for our blessing and the blessing of many.
One of the five main fruits of Eucharistic communion (Holy Communion) is that ‘it commits us to the poor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1397), meaning that through the power of the Lord’s grace received at Holy Communion, we are to open our hearts to the needs of others, especially the poor, and see Christ in them. We offer any little things we have so many can share in the love of Christ through us.
Miracles happen when people share. Miracles happen when people let go of spiritual hoarding and give Christ a chance to transform their little contributions into an ocean of mercy, love and providence for many.
You and I are agents of miracle if we give thanks in little things and offer them to God in generosity for many.
I pray that you and I may continue to be God’s instrument of providence and love in our communities. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[17thSunday Ordinary Time B: 2 Kgs 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15]
Grace to you!
The stigmatist, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, popularly known as Padre Pio, was one of the most popular of modern saints. Reports of his holiness, love for God and neighbor, and incredible testimonies of miracles that the Lord worked through him were numerous. Many flocked from different parts of the world to see the monk who, for the most part, was secluded in the little room at Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy. Delicate Francesco (Pio’s given name) could barely hold a barrel or display the physical toughness of the military when he was drafted as an Italian military during the second world war. He was discharged from duty after about 182 days due to his precarious health. However, he would turn out to be a valiant spiritual warrior against evil and the demonic world and a channel of healing grace to many. But, when he was alive, he suffered so much from some of his closest religious brothers and neighbors in Italy. The Lord said, “a prophet is without honor in his own town” (Mk 6:4).
From canonized saints to many living witnesses of Christ you see many have noticed around your neighborhood and in churches across the world, hardly is there an easy pass when it comes to their immediate environment. You will observe that they have their fair experiences of how bearing witness to God entails swimming against the current. For that, they win more foes than one would expect, especially from those closer home.
I was wondering why, when Prophet Ezekiel was commissioned to preach, God prewarned that the he would face rejection and that the mission wasn’t going to be easy (see Ezekiel 2:2-5). Yet, the prophet is required to say: “Thus says the Lord” (Ez 2:4). Whether the people listen or not is not the measure for the success of the prophet’s success. The prophet’s responsibility is to say what God says, pleasant or unpleasant. This is striking to me.
In life, one could face various levels of challenging situations. Those challenges, which I prefer to see as opportunities, may be ways of testing our faith or maturation. Some of the opportunities may come from the field itself and the people we meet. We may meet indifferent, unloving and unwelcoming situations that we would be wondering why bother.
A supervisor’s heart was so broken when she received a box of heinous petitions leveled against her by some members of her team. According to her, many of those accusations were blatantly false. Some came from those she thought were her closest allies. They simply didn’t want her, though they pretended they did. Hence, they made things difficult for her.
You may have noticed that sometimes your greatest hurdles in doing the right thing come from that child, that sibling, that friend, that colleague for whom you have sacrificed so much. The more witness of love you bear, the more manipulative they become. The day you choose no longer to be manipulated, that day, all the good you have done for them would be as if they never happened. You become the villain. You thought by living a saintly example, you would receive praise. You forget that saints are named only when they die. Various times, saints are regarded as villains by many of their contemporaries.
Discouragement could come from yourself also. As Saint Paul shares with his own personal life, he carried in his body a humbling reminder. “A thorn in the flesh” he says, “to beat me, to keep me from being elated” (2 Cor 12:7). For Paul, it was a tormenting experience, an experience that could discourage anyone.
What is your own thorn in the flesh? Declining health? Addiction? Hurting memories? Humbling child or sibling? Rejection from peers and colleagues? Broken and unhealed relationships? Betrayal and general frustrations because of things outside of your control? Do these keep you humble and sometimes make you want to quit from being the witness of the love, grace and mercy of God? Are these making you reconsider being that light in your community?
Allowing your personal challenges to dampen the spirit of bearing witness isn’t the answer. God’s word speaks to you at this moment, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
Other elements of the challenge could come from relationships. We read in the Gospel of Mark 6:1-6 how Jesus wasn’t welcome in his own town, among his own people. They knew him—a mere son of a carpenter without elitist background. Underneath is jealousy.
Sometimes, you may feel discouraged from shining the light because of sibling and sibling-like jealousy. If that were to discourage you, you know you have a long way to go. Jealousy is everywhere. Poor or wealthy you aren’t shielded from it. Even if you were to be an Ivy League school graduate or the child of the Queen of England, many will still put you down. Keep an eye on why you are here. Get about your daily work being Christ to others anyway.
Accepted or rejected, praised or denounced, welcomed or shut out, keep the smile of grace coming. Keep shining the light. Keep the spirit of the Lord alive. Be one more instance of grace for your neighborhood.
Personalizing Saint Paul’s encouraging line, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
Praying for you, for the grace of courage, strengthening and endurance. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[14th Sunday Ordinary Time B: Ez 2:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.